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Why Is Bedtime Always a Battle With My Toddler and What Can I Do About It?

Do you dread bedtime every night? Do you anticipate negotiations, tears, and difficult behavior from your toddler when it’s time to go to sleep? If so, you’re not alone. Due to their development stage and other factors, toddlers can make bedtime a bad time. We’ve provided some strategies you can test out and see if they help ease your toddler to sleep.

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Toddlers are continually developing physically, emotionally, and mentally. During this time, they’re gaining a sense of independence, which can lead to power struggles with their caregivers. They may push boundaries as a way to exercise control over their environment.

In many cases, separation anxiety can lead to bedtime challenges. As children grow, they become increasingly aware of their surroundings and may experience worry or fear when separated from their caregivers. This temporary phase often peaks between 18 months and 2 years of age, which is why toddlers might resist bedtime as they worry about the separation.

Sometimes, children just grow out of the difficult bedtime phase on their own. You can also help your child feel relaxed and ready for bedtime by trying any of these strategies. 

  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine: Create a relaxing and predictable bedtime routine with activities like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or singing a lullaby. This helps signal to your toddler that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

  • Set an appropriate bedtime: Ensure that your child goes to bed at an age-appropriate time, considering their daytime naps and activity levels. An overtired toddler may become more irritable and resistant to sleep. Experts recommend toddlers aim to get ready for bed around 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. so they can wind down and fall asleep by about 7:30 p.m.

  • Create a comfortable sleep environment: Make sure your child's room is a peaceful and quiet space with soft lighting, comfortable bedding, and a comfortable temperature.

  • Use positive reinforcement: Praise your toddler when they cooperate and follow their bedtime routine without resistance. Offer small rewards or incentives, like putting a special sticker on a chart for each successful bedtime.

  • Set boundaries and apply consequences: Clearly communicate bedtime rules and expectations. Consistently enforce consequences for not following the routine, such as losing privileges like screen time the next day.

  • Offer comfort items: Provide your child with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket to help ease anxiety and provide comfort during bedtime.

  • Gradual transitions: If your toddler is fearful of being left in their room, try a gradual transition process. Spend a few days sitting by their bed as they settle, then gradually move farther away each night until you're outside their door.

Quick Tip: Avoid using the bed or bedroom as a time-out area or place of punishment. This can increase feelings of fear or dread in children when it’s time for bed.

First 5 California
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First 5 California
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